In 2013 I won a children’s writing competition.

My prize was a one year creative writing scholarship with Waiariki. One of my tutors was Sue Emms. This is an extract from one of my assignments. With Sue’s comments in italics. It might be a good starting place for understanding your own writing.

Part 1 – Strengths & Weaknesses/Limitations

What are your strengths? My biggest natural attribute is I’m a people person

I enjoy having people around me that I can talk to, engage with and also listen to. Usually I’m able to make people relax when I’m around them and make them feel comfortable to open up and talk about themselves. I can chat to anyone, anytime; person at the bus stops, a passerby, people waiting in my queues.  Sometimes it might be a compliment about what they are wearing or a silly comment on something that is happening at that moment.

Interaction with adults gives me an opportunity to view or share briefly a slice of life that I may never have thought of or considered.  These interactions helps build up my journal of writing ideas:

– the conversation itself – the way people look or dress – interesting mannerisms – different verbal expressions – use of language

I also enjoy being around kids and listening to their explanations about life in their world; especially the younger children. I love their (brutal) honesty and innocent naivety which shows that the big wide world hasn’t been allowed to show its scary side yet. Interactions with children help me by better understanding what kids are interested in.

– listen to the way they express themselves to one another – watch how they interact with each other – what’s cool and what’s not cool anymore

I have a relaxed manner of the phone and am often employed to be the voice of ‘the company.’ This includes asking carefully worded open-ended questions to better understand what the customer actually wants – as sometimes they don’t know themselves. This has helped in situations when I’ve been dealing with grieving family members or clients facing extreme financial hardship. Interactions by phone help me by:

– being effective in researching for a written piece – encourages me to ask open-ended questions – can’t judge a person on the phone, so stops you being distracted by their darkened smoke stained teeth and breath.

Very nicely done. You make a number of excellent and thoughtful points around the main heading. 

My biggest talent – I love to read & write

I read anything that I can get my hands on. I love the power of words and how they can evoke a thought, a memory or even a desire. I read fiction of any age, classics to modern day, child to adult.  My boys bring home their library books and I’m reading them at the same time as them – usually when they’re watching television or doing maths homework.  He-he. Glad to hear I  am not the only one!

I also enjoy non-fiction about New Zealand history, animals, people and plants. Autobiographies and biographies interest me too as so often the ‘big’ person was diminutive and unnoticed but did something or became someone important.  (Though I know the Kardashian family doesn’t fits this scenario at all.)  Try to avoid the use of ampersands in ordinary text. They’re OK for titles.

Reading a wide range of books helps me:

– understand different writing styles – non-fiction has idea gems that trigger my imagination for stories, as well as research material – New Zealand history gives me a better understanding of what it has taken to grow my country

– children’s literature helps me to better understand my target reader

I love free-hand writing in my journal about anything that takes my interest. It could be a thought, a feeling, a description, a conversation or an idea for a story. It may turn into a children’s story, a poem, a short story or prose.  I have written a children’s novel based on my father’s life in the depression era of the 1930’s and included the funny things that happened to him as a child. I enjoy putting together words on a page and filling that page with imagination, emotion, laughter, description, narrative, twists and turns.  Again, excellent comment.

What are your weaknesses/limitations?

 1. Self doubt – Self doubt is definitely a starter for 10.  I worry about what others think of my writing.  As you only hear of only successful ‘famous’ writers the prospects in the writing industry seem so limited.

I was very apprehensive of paying for a writing course as I thought I’d be feed into a standard mould with my classmates and be spat out like clones. This has been proven to be totally unwarranted.  Sometimes I feel writing is a person’s secret passion and worry I will become a hermit scurrying around with my proverbial shell of ideas weighing me down.

Letting the perception of others stop me from achieving my goals.

Many, many writers will identify with this point, Louise. Sometimes I think it comes with the writing territory. I am glad to hear you don’t feel cloned – I’d be horrified if that were the case. My goal is only to provide information on known techniques and principles, and to then provide guidance on how a writer can use those principles to make the most of their own talents and goal

2. Grammar – I have been pulled up about my tenses in my writing many times.  I naturally swap from talking about today to the day before yesterday.  I also struggle getting my head around simple, compound and complex sentences, as well as the correct use of verbs.  I wish I’d paid more attention to writing at school and got this under my belt.

– Grammar and punctuation play a massive part in how a piece of writing is read, understood and enjoyed.

3. Reader age v writing age – I struggle to correctly assess the age of my writings to the appropriate age of my readers. I find my stories are either below the reader’s level I targeting or beyond what they can manage.  As I want to get into educational writing for school children I know I need to get this problem sorted.

– This weakness will limit my work being picked up by publishers.

Yes, it will impact, I agree. But that’s why it can be so useful to be aware of the basic principles as it allows you to analyse a complete piece of writing and to reshape it to fit.

4. Overwriting

I get carried away with the description of the piece of writing that I underwrite the plot and story line.  This leaves my writing very absorbing but with little point for the reader to continue to the end.

–  Readers lose interest and become tangled in my web of words.

Look at this point another way: description is a strength. You can continue to use that to create vivid scenes etc. while you work on strengthening plot and structure.

 5. Lack of Understanding

Only a small number of people ‘get’ the idea of my desire to become a published writer.  Most people ask if I have anything published yet, before saying ‘stick with your day job.’ I find it hard to allocate time to write when others don’t see the importance of quiet, uninterrupted writing time.

Louise de Varga has published two of her Kapowai children story books. She is a passionate supporter of the annual NZ Book Festival for indie authors, illustrators and independent publishing businesses.

By clicking on any of pictures in this post you will be whisked away to their website.